There's something about a well-told martial arts story that I find deeply satisfying, and Never Die is absolutely a well-told martial arts fantasy. I enjoyed it immensely.
Although more accurately described as an ensemble story, the heart of the tale (in my mind) is the legendary warrior Whispering Blade. Killed while defending a village from a bandit attack, she is brought back to life (mostly) by the mysterious child Ein. She is the first of several heroes recruited for a nearly impossible mission. Though I enjoyed all the character arcs in the story, it was Whispering Blade's that I found most compelling.
There are enough twists and mysteries within this story to keep the pages turning, but the overarching plot, for the most part, is simple. Like a great action movie, it provides just enough justification for the set-pieces, and in Never Die, the set pieces are excellent. Different martial arts styles and magical abilities combine for thrilling battles throughout the book.
It's the battles in this book that impressed me most. I'll confess that more often than not, I'm getting to the point where I find battles to be the easiest parts of books to skim.
Not so in Never Die.
The battles are the lifeblood of this story, revealing and developing the characters with each punch and swing of the sword. For an ensemble martial arts fantasy filled with duels and battles, there's an impressive amount of character development in this book. But it's because every fight serves multiple purposes. Each duel and battle teaches us more about the characters and the world. It's on the battlefield our heroes make the choices that define their arcs.
I really enjoyed Never Die, and if you're looking for a great martial arts fantasy, I'd highly recommend it.